Paul Sullivan, an analyst at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, notes that breakdown of security in the region has empowered jihadist groups by making it far easier for them to find safe havens—and to carry out activities such as smuggling that they have traditionally used to fund themselves. (Belmokhtar is a notorious cigarette smuggler, earning the nickname “Mr. Marlboro” for his trafficking.) “Weapons movements, smuggling of many sorts of varieties to pay for extremist activities are a lot easier now—and less costly,” Sullivan says. “AQIM and others like them find moving about the deserts and in cities a lot easier than when the dictators slammed on just about everyone.”
International energy companies—and the fragile governments of the Arab Spring—are bracing now for copycat attacks on oil and gas facilities, anticipating other jihadist leaders will want to emulate last week’s attack, one that highlighted the vulnerability of energy installations in the region. They had thought the installations were relatively secure.
Historically, jihadi groups hadn’t used the tactic of attacking oil fields or natural gas plants. But now jihadist websites are abuzz with discussion of the benefits of mounting such assaults, and the arguments contained in a 2005 fatwa by Abd Allah b. Nasir al-Rashid, currently in jail in Saudi Arabia, and another by Abu Bakr Naji figure prominently. Among the benefits: the harming the “infidels’ economies” by raising prices and the weakening of “apostate Arab countries” by forcing them to dedicate more resources to defending the facilities, leaving them more prey to jihadist incursions.